Your average search engine user has the patience of a toddler – they expect to leverage one or a few keywords to get the answer they are expecting and they’ll only try once or twice before giving up. If the results are bad, they’re not likely to try again – you’ve lost a user, or customer.
This is a hard problem to solve when the user is a senior professional looking for business information about a competitor – or the market trend behind a stock’s movement.
FirstRain is all about only the highest quality, high precision results for professional users and a critical piece of our system behind our results is our rich Metadata library. To put it simply, Metadata is data about data; for us, it’s the information architecture that captures what the documents in our system are about – and they can be about any number of concepts drawn from the thousands we’ve modeled. They can be literal (this is about Apple Computer) or they can be crossed by any number of building blocks (this is about layoffs at Motorola in Illinois).
The base layer of FirstRain is the categorization engine that identifies and tags what an article is about – a company, a market trend, an event. Since these tags determine what users see when doing research in our system (and remember – no patience with poor results), the rules that go into identifying them need to be spot on. For example, it’s necessary to ensure a new video game launch from a company like Electronic Arts is tagged appropriately, but a blog about how to reach new levels in one of their games is ignored. A single web document may have any number of tags reflecting the content in it. The article about Electronic Arts could also mention other relevant information about competitors and partners, as well as trends like video game sales; and it’s important to identify and tag each appropriate facet.
But just tagging the data to the right topics is only half the magic. Imagine what you can do if you can also analyze the frequencies of the Metadata. Keep in mind we have millions of documents in FirstRain, each containing numerous tags telling us what it’s about and where it’s from. Go back to the Electronic Arts example: FirstRain can identify the number of times EA is mentioned in conjunction with any related topic, such as new products, or any other company. We highlight spikes in these counts for our users and so show up emerging trends in number of mentions above or below their competition. These counts can give great insight into what a company is doing, or is about to do.
By treating the Metadata as a database in itself, and analyzing it for spikes and patterns we can identify emerging trends for users that they simply could not see from even the highest quality individual search results.
Last month’s announcement by Newssift (part of the Financial Times Group) of its meaning-based vertical search engine was an important new way to look at search for business professionals – you can quickly see how it’s different if you try it at www.newssift.com.
This morning, Newssift and FirstRain announced that FirstRain’s technology provides the business-relevant content: news, blogs, and other original, authoritative pieces of web content that Newssift consumes. We drive business content into the Newssift search application – here is the press release.
Why does this matter to Newssift? Well at the heart is the quest for quality of search results. If you’ve ever tried to use Google for business research you know how nearly impossible it is. You just get too many old and junky results back so you can’t sort the good from the bad – and so you can’t solve your research problem. In contrast, FirstRain has built its name providing highly relevant finance and market research information, extracted and analyzed from the web, to professional investors and corporate users. This matters because some of the smartest people in the world manage money. They run hedge funds, they manage billions of dollars of assets in mutual funds and pension funds – and they have a lower tolerance for junk or irrelevant data than any other group of users in the world. They have driven us to produce only the highest level of quality of research from the web.
As a result of our user’s demands, we’ve built considerable expertise in the quality of the content coming in which we are now making available to Newssift. The quality and classification of the sources, sorting out useful and authoritative blogs from junky promotional ones. Sorting out the highest quality journalism sources from countries all over the world. And now that content is flowing into Newssift so if you use Newssift you’re getting access to the first stage of the FirstRain advantage.
Newssift has led the way, and other media leaders now have a template. We read daily of publishers of every stripe struggling to build and retain their online audience. Whether it’s a technology trade journal, a leading voice of the blogosphere, an investing website, or a major metro newspaper, new tools are coming up to make the web useful for business research in the new generation of publishing that’s emerging. And Newssift won’t be the last.
Exciting times ahead.
The global publishing giants have declared war on the new technology generation of content distributors – but they have lost sight of what consumers value and how they want to get to the value. It’s time to separate content creators from distributors. It’s time for a new business model which requires technology understanding and leadership to develop – and one that new generation search applications like Google News and Digg for the consumer, or FirstRain for the professional investor, can sign up for to get the right news to the right people at the right price for them.
Local publications like The Boston Globe are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, others such as The Seattle Post-Intelligencer are moving exclusively online after 146 years in print and global giants like the Associated Press and Wall Street Journal are trying to fight back. But the reality is this is too little, too late and effectively going to war with your customers is a fatal strategy as Arianna Huffington posted a few days ago.
Face it – the consumers of news have changed – dramatically. We no longer read multiple news sources on the hope that we’ll find something interesting, most of the younger of us don’t take a daily physical newspaper and as services like Facebook, Digg and Twitter have shown, we expect the most interesting news to find us. It’s not that we believe news should be free – clearly there is discovery, research and production cost, but it should be allowed to roam freely across the many channels the web enables and still maintain proper attribution.
Our customers at FirstRain have shown us over the past three years that the authoritative news is no longer only found in the WSJ, FT et al. Instead it’s media like the DailyKos, Gizmodo, Consumerist, and In the Pipeline that are increasing the size of the news market pie and creating a huge demand for such obscure, on-the-edge news. In addition, the value of each piece of news varies by who’s reading it and what they plan to do with it. What a college student reads about Apple, Inc. on an obscure blog may be informative and help him plan on his next iPhone purchase, but to a portfolio manager at a Hedge Fund, that same information may be the bit of news he’s been looking for to insert into his model and make a multimillion-dollar trading decision. In both cases the news has value but the value, the search technology to find and rank the news and the delivery model is different in each case.
The critical issue still stands though – original investigative reporting is a public service that we, as a society, cannot do without. Journalists are our educators and our whistleblowers , our eyes and ears on the ground.
The news industry needs to find a recovery path through innovation and collaboration. As Scott Karp points out in his article in Publishing 2.0, this is a technology issue that is outside the comfort zone of traditional publishers. Here are three steps the AP and its 1,500 U.S. daily newspaper members and the Newspaper Association of America (NAA) need to consider in creating a viable business model for themselves and their customers:
* Protect the original content creators: Grant original content producers the opportunity to file as nonprofits under the same laws and protections offered to the Public broadcasting companies as supported by Senator Benjamin Cardin, of MD.
* Track the content: Work with aggregators like Google News, Yahoo, MSN, as well as NYT, WSJ, and the like on developing a new HTML standard that can be inserted into the original news articles to enable the tracking of news throughout its lifecycle.
* Develop a fee-sharing business model: Work with content distributors on an appropriate fee-sharing model to enable the distribution of originally published news through the various niche channels as diverse as Google News, Bloomberg, FirstRain, and even a locally-published community paper.
These options would give content producers multiple channels to sell through, and the ability to charge a real market price based on each distributor’s reach and depth, while at the same time providing an opportunity for smaller players writing original content to distribute their content through major channels for added revenue, outside of Google Adwords.
Then the AP and NAA would create a competitive environment and a generation of startups through which news is distributed to consumers and business professionals. And better yet, this would drive the separation of content creation from distribution – and set up a long term sustainable business model which is what the publishing industry so badly needs.
The commercial real estate crisis has been looming for months and it looks as though it’s being held back by a finger in the dam.
It starts with the low mall occupancy rates. We’re already seeing store closings like Circuit City and if you walk around any but the most successful malls you’ll see closed storefronts aplenty. This trend is now flowing into the firms which own the malls, for example the current poster child General Growth.
General Growth has a mountain of debt and would, under normal circumstances, have filed for bankruptcy by now. From the Wall Street Journal: “Creditors so far have been willing to let deadlines pass because they believe there is little to be gained and much to be lost through a bankruptcy. General Growth’s mall operations are stable and many bondholders hope for a greater recovery outside of bankruptcy court.
“This is really rare,” said Kevin Starke, an analyst at CRT Capital Group LLC, a research company that tracks distressed securities. “It is corporate-bond limbo like I’ve never seen before.”
So how long can this hold out last? How long until the finger (not forcing debtors into bankruptcy) is pulled out of the dam? There is definitely a difference of opinion on whether the problem is the business of the malls themselves, or just too much debt burden – read some point, counterpoint from the UK on this here.
And worse – what will the fallout be beyond commercial real estate? We have many clients using FirstRain in the REIT (Real Estate Investment Trust) research process and as I used FirstRain to understand more about the commercial real estate market my interest was caught by the connection between life insurance and commercial real estate outlined by the Jutia Group. This Crisis is Just Starting to Hit the Headlines where the author predicts the fall:
Take MetLife for example. MetLife has $36 billion worth of direct exposure to commercial real estate… and less than $19 billion of tangible equity. A 25% drop in the value of its commercial real estate holdings would cut tangible equity in half. That would crush the stock.
MetLife isn’t alone. I’ve got my eye on 13 North American insurance companies. And all of them will take large writedowns due to commercial real estate and variable annuity exposures. At least one of them will fail over the next year.
I wish I were wrong about this. And I have nothing against any of the companies involved. Many are well run and, until now, had decent track records as good investors.
But they simply can’t get out of the way. They’re like giant hotels sitting on a sunny tropical shore… with an enormous tsunami headed straight for them.
Right now, it’s time to go short on the biggest U.S. life insurance stocks.
Definitely a trend to watch.